New Listings, June 2016
A water tower in Manassas, a mill complex that operated into the 1960s in Amherst County, tobacco warehouses in Richmond affiliated with the mass marketing of cigarette brands, and a military railroad at the heart of Fort Belvoir’s development in Fairfax County are among the 14 historic sites listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register.
A post-Civil War surge in the nationwide popularity of cigarettes and other tobacco products energized Richmond’s tobacco industry, beginning in 1874, with the construction of storage and manufacturing facilities. The industry flourished into the mid-20th century as a result of mass marketing, enhanced production, and the branding of smoking blends. In the early 20th century, many tobacco companies transitioned away from vertically designed, all-in-one storage and production buildings to horizontally arranged facilities, consisting of separate buildings sprawled across large properties. Two of these companies, the American Tobacco Company and, decades later, the Blair Tobacco Storage Warehouse, established complexes on the capital city’s Southside.
The American Tobacco Company South Richmond Complex Historic District is the first and earliest example of the horizontal approach to tobacco storage and production. The district began in 1911 with construction of American Tobacco Company’s first warehouses. The company, the first to open a laboratory to study tobacco’s commercial uses, relocated its research department from New York City to South Richmond in 1929, and ten years later opened a new state-of-the-art research facility where advances took place in tobacco cultivation and processing, as well as research into the health ramifications of tobacco. Warehouses in the historic district also reveal how the destructive tobacco beetle forced companies in the mid-20th century to convert interiors from an “open” to a “closed” design, which allowed for routine fumigation to fight the beetles.
American Tobacco Company closed its historic district complex, along with the rest of the South Richmond Complex, in the 1980s.
Among a dozen or so companies that followed the American Tobacco Company’s horizontal model after 1911 was the Blair Tobacco Storage Warehouse. The company began construction in today’s Blair Tobacco Storage Warehouse Historic District in 1939. Unlike earlier Richmond tobacco warehouses, the Blair complex resulted from independently-owned storage facilities that relied on trucking to distribute product. Directly tied to a subsidiary trucking enterprise, the Blair Transit Company, the Blair Tobacco Storage Warehouse stockpiled large quantities of tobacco varieties that middlemen sold to cigarette manufacturers who had to produce a consistent blend for their respective cigarette brands. The storage and delivery capacity of these new warehouses such as Blair made possible the mass production of brand cigarettes. In 1965, the company built its last warehouse in the historic district that conformed in pattern and footprint to its previous warehouses.
The Baker Public School, built in 1939 in Richmond’s North Jackson Ward neighborhood, is the third school to arise on the site since 1871. Each school served the city’s African-American students during the era of segregation in public schools. After integration in 1970, the school remained open until 1979 when the city converted the property to serve other educational programs. In addition to the 1939 edifice, another building on the site dates to 1913. Baker Public School and the site reflect the growth and transition of an important African-American community in Richmond, dating from 1871 through to 1979, as well as the evolving story of public education. Notably, the 1939 addition to the school was designed by the Richmond firm of Marcellus Wright & Son, and the architect of the 1913 building was Charles M. Robinson, who designed many public schools and college buildings throughout Virginia.
Situated just east of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Madison County, the estate of Belle Plaine evolved during 250 years as it adapted to the area’s changing agricultural practices. It began in the 1760s as a farmstead anchored by a one-room log cabin. Its next phase began in 1811 when Nathaniel J. Welch acquired the property and over the next 50 years made it into a large-scale agricultural enterprise dependent on enslaved laborers. After the Civil War, the property entered a new phase as area farmers gradually adapted to the realities of agricultural production without enslaved people. By the 1920s, as a result of new technologies and agricultural advances, Belle Plaine had emerged as a substantial modern farming operation. Today’s property features a late-18th or early-19th century Federal-style main house with vernacular elements and incorporates one of only a few known examples of log-frame residential construction in the county. The property also contains assorted 19th-century and modern agricultural outbuildings.
Belvidere is a surviving late-18th-century example of residential architecture in Goochland County. Built around 1790, the house incorporates an unusual variation of the regionally recognized three-room house plan with an off-center chimney at one end serving corner fireplaces. It demonstrates the ways in which regional building types were altered to conform to changing standards of privacy, social relations, and architectural form. It is comparable to several documented houses in the county including Genito, the Booker S. Parrish House, and Johnson-Hughes-Ford-Alvis House, all now-vanished frame houses with off-center end chimneys shared by rooms in the main body of the house. Around 1825, a rear addition to the house was built and matching rooflines constructed between the two sections.
For more than 150 years, the Brightwells Mill Complex contributed to the production and commercial processing of grains in Amherst County, serving as a companion to other mills nearby. The focal point of surrounding farms during the early to mid-20th century, Brightwells was one of a few operating mills available to farmers in Amherst and adjoining counties. By the 1960s, it also was one of the last water-powered mills in the county.
William Burford built the original mill prior to 1826 and a surviving circa-1826 log house that was later incorporated into the existing miller’s house. The mill operated through the 19th century under successive owners who enlarged the complex. In 1942 a storm caused a flood that breached the mill’s 19th-century earthen-and-log dam and washed the mill and other buildings away, leaving behind only the mill stones and wheel. Soon thereafter, materials from the earlier mill were salvaged to rebuild a saw mill. Lumber was milled onsite and a new grain mill built. Then-owner Harmon Brightwell constructed new buildings on the property and remodeled and expanded the miller’s house. The mill ceased processing grains for human consumption in 1965.
Located several miles north of Purcellville in Loudoun County, the Brown-Koerner House is a well-preserved circa-1815 fieldstone dwelling, a once-common house form in the county’s western part. A vernacular adaptation of the Federal architectural style, the house features local construction materials and a simple design that combines rustic and refined detailing on the exterior and the interior. The house hints at building forms that appeared in the county during the late 1700s yet also showcases elements of architectural styles—such as massive stone quoins—already popular in high-style houses in larger and more urban areas to the north and east. Compared to the other residential buildings of its era in the area, the Brown/Koerner House’s significance is revealed in its craftsmanship, materials, floorplan, and its intact and original details.
Clynchdale is the center of a sprawling farm located in southern Tazewell County, at the base of Clinch Mountain, on the waters of the South Fork of Clinch River. It is the oldest house at the head of Thompson Valley, named after William and Archibald Thompson who first settled there in the early 19th century. Archibald Thompson owned 2,444 acres in the valley when he began construction of the house. He referred to the property as his “plantation” in his will of 1846. The two-story, L-shaped dwelling was built with bricks made on the property. Repairs and additions to the original house were made in 1870 and in 1910. The front porch and entrance surround date to 1910. Much of the woodwork in the house is Greek Revival-style in character, although the oldest parts reflect the Federal style. Today, 450 acres of the original farm are still associated with Clynchdale. Archibald, his wife Rebecca, son James and several others are buried in a cemetery on a hill behind the house.
Courtland School served African American students from around 1928, the year of the school’s construction, through 1963, when it closed. The Julius Rosenwald Fund provided money and architectural plans to support the school’s construction. Rosenwald, president of Sears Roebuck and Company, collaborated with Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute to establish the fund to improve educational access for African Americans in segregated communities throughout the South. In Virginia, 367 Rosenwald schools in 79 localities arose between 1917 and 1932, the life span of the fund. Similar to the Courtland School, 50 percent of Virginia’s Rosenwalds were two-teacher type schools built from plans provided by the Rosenwald fund.
The Fort Belvoir Military Railroad Historic Corridor consists of a four-mile trunk line road bed and five-and-a-half miles of sidings, including rail yards, and the associated buildings, sites, and structures of the Fort Belvoir Military Railroad. The railroad is integral to the story of Belvoir’s development, especially the planning and growth of Camp A. A. Humphreys, the original name of the base, established in January 1918, after the U.S. entered World War I in 1917.
WWI challenged the U.S. Army to mobilize over two million soldiers rapidly and train engineers in the use of new technologies of warfare—planes, tanks, machine guns, U-boats, and poison gas, among others. By summer 1917, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers arranged for all its officers and troops to be trained at one central facility—Camp Humphreys, which eventually served 30,000 engineer soldiers.
At a time when trains were the most reliable and timely overland transportation, the military railroad offered essential access to Camp Humphreys, located on a peninsula in the Potomac River then-served only by steamboats from Washington D.C. The camp’s location gave it proximity to the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad lines located at Accotink, as well as the Washington-Virginia Electric Railway Terminal at Mount Vernon. Officials hoped that constructing short rail spurs would improve and ease access between D.C. and Fort Belvoir, so-renamed in the 1930s. The railroad thus became a vital centerpiece at Belvoir during its early days, and it continued to serve an expanding installation throughout the 20th century, illustrating the importance of a light military railroad to an installation.
Jordan’s Point Historic District is tied to the story of the City of Lexington’s industrial and transportation history during the 19th and early-20th centuries. The partnership of John Jordan and John Moorhead acquired the land known as “the Point” in the first decade of the 19th century and built a merchant mill, cotton factory, tilt hammer shop, and numerous other industrial buildings. In 1860 the Point became the terminus of the North River Navigation Company Canal, an extension of the James River and Kanawha Canal. During the Civil War, in 1864 the Union Army burned the Point. After the war, it was reborn and rechristened as the community of Beechenbrook. The Great Road crossed the Point in the 18th century, superseded by a turnpike and a rail line in the 19th century, and traces of these transportation routes are visible today. Important surviving historic buildings and structures are an 1811 Miller’s House; an 1874 Gothic Revival Beechenbrook Chapel; a circa-1860 gauge dock and canal wharf; a stone abutment for a 19th-century covered bridge; and 19th-century industrial building foundations. The Jordan’s Point Historic District period of significance spans from around 1800, about when industrial development at the Point began, until 1930, by which time industrial activity in the district largely ceased.
With its construction in 1914, the 147-foot tall Manassas Water Tower signaled the community’s pivot from a small rural town to a modern city with a planned infrastructure. It arose during an era when elevated steel water tanks, first developed in the 1890s, emerged as common landmarks in communities throughout the U.S. As a central component of its first municipal waterworks, the Manassas tower’s 75,000-gallon capacity supported community-wide fire protection in a pressurized system, while offering residents clean, abundant water.
The oldest surviving public water tower in Northern Virginia today, the Manassas tower conforms to a then-popular design distinguished by a conical roof, a riveted steel tank with a rounded bottom, set atop four lattice-channel posts with diagonal tie rods. The Manassas tower is the first water tower to be individually listed during the Virginia Landmarks Register’s 50 years.
The South Rockfish Valley Rural Historic District comprises a 1,620-acre swath of historic farms, agricultural landscapes, small crossroads, and residential communities. The district boasts a well-preserved rural landscape with a continuous tradition of farming since the first half of the 1700s. An exceptionally fertile valley, its agricultural history chronicles the rise of tobacco cultivation for international export from the 18th through the late-19th centuries, the transition to a thriving apple orchard industry from the 1880s through early 1940s, and the present mix of cattle farming and experimentation with viticulture and cider orchards. The district hosts a vibrant collection of 18th, 19th, and early-20th-century residences and buildings, representing a variety of vernacular and more formal architectural styles. Particularly noteworthy are several well-preserved late-18th- to early-19th-century farmhouses including three that are individually listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and National Register of Historic Places, as is the 1908 Wintergreen Country Store. The historic crossroads community of Wintergreen saw a succession of stores, mills, and schools from the 1840s through the early 20th century, and the sites of these buildings appear to hold excellent archaeological potential.
Thorndale Farm, near Middletown in Frederick County, includes a house with a central-chimney portion dating back to around the 1790s. A Greek Revival-style main block was added to the original house around 1855. Capt. John Larrick, a member of the Virginia Militia from 1779 until 1782, the year of his death, received the property through a 1760 land grant from Thomas Lord Fairfax. The property remained in the hands of Capt. Larrick’s descendants until 1940. During the 1864 Civil War battle of Cedar Creek, Thorndale Farm was the scene of a devastating Federal assault in which Col. Charles Russell Lowell, a scion of the prominent Massachusetts Lowell family, was fatally wounded just before receiving a brevet commission as Brigadier General. Situated in a rural setting largely unchanged from its appearance during the Civil War, the private property occasionally hosts interpretive programs by the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park.
Centered on a 308-foot tall, 24-story skyscraper, Norfolk’s Virginia National Bank Headquarters Historic District is an outstanding example of mid-20th century Modern skyscraper design that embodies the era’s construction methods in southeast Virginia. Erected between 1965 and 1967, it arose under the direction of its designers, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), among the most nationally important American architectural firms at the time, and with support from the prominent Norfolk firm Williams, Tazewell & Associates. Exhibiting the latest design features and elements of its day, the bank headquarters marked the arrival of Virginia National Bank as a major financial force in the commonwealth and the mid-Atlantic region. The construction of the building, accompanying plaza, and parking deck, all located on more than four acres, led the transformation and revitalization of Norfolk’s downtown and elevated the city’s importance in the mid-Atlantic region.